Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Poisoned Pen Press: Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger

From My Shelf

Fall's Best Look

Years ago, I had a friend who was a very fine interior designer (so good that some Cabinet members had her do their new offices). When my family moved into our current home, she insisted that the first thing we needed to do was fill the bookshelves--partly, of course, because I have a lot of books, but also because her motto was "Books make a room." 

I've been thinking about that motto a lot in the past few weeks as the autumnal onslaught of fashion and interior magazines has begun. Even the catalogues display huge, unwieldy and (to me, at least) enticing stacks of books, next to desks, sofas, beds, tables and chairs. Oh, and even a few beautifully appointed bookcases. We all like looking at those, right? (Hence the popularity of the Bookshelf Porn site....)

However, in these latest carefully created fashion and interior photographs, the books are often there to make the room, but not to furnish anyone's mind. I love seeing books, don't get me wrong--I just don't want them to become empty props. My friend shuddered at the thought of "books by the yard" that some designers use; she wanted her clients (and friends, and family) to make books part of their living areas because books were part of their lives. I love seeing family reference shelves with beat-up dictionaries, kitchen shelves stuffed with stained cookbooks, and studies crammed with all sorts of journals and monographs.

Glossy jackets and stacks of deckle-edged pages look gorgeous, but it's what's between the covers that really makes for intelligent design.

Little Simon: Dragon & the Knight by Robert Sabuda

Harper Perennial: The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Agate: Indian for Everyone by Anupy Singla

Bookselling News

A Punch Card for the Bookish

Most consumers have wallets stuffed with discount and punch cards--but for readers, a recent promotion in Minnesota's Twin Cities offers something new and tempting: a bookstore gift card!

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Twin Cities Literary Punch Card will be launched September 14. The premise is simple: "Attend a literary event, get a punch. Buy a book at an event, get a second punch. Fill your card--12 punches--get a prize, a $15 gift card to use at any participating bookstore."

The catalyst for this idea was the sometimes anemic attendance figures in an area that is "awash in literary events almost every day of every week of every month--readings, signings, book clubs, launch parties. So the folks from Milkweed, Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press, Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Loft Literary Center got together to figure out how to attract larger crowds," the Star Tribune wrote. Thus far, three bookstores are on board: Magers & QuinnCommon Good Booksand Micawber's

Not every literary event will earn a punch. To qualify, events must be free, include a visit from an author and be hosted by one of the sponsoring organizations or bookstores. We think this is a punch-y idea that could easily be duplicated in other cities—perhaps your own?

Book Candy: Celeb Libraries; America's Most Literary Street

Celebrities who are also readers have a slight advantage over the rest of us, in that they, "often making tens of thousands of dollars for just showing up somewhere, have no such financial restraints and may indulge themselves with those epic home libraries the rest of us can only dream about." Presented as evidence by AccreditedOnlineColleges.com are "20 celebrities with stunning home libraries."

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In a photo slide show, the Daily Beast made its case for Columbia Heights as "America’s most literary street," noting that it "is the closest street to the water in the quiet, leafy Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, and the authors who have lived there, if they were lucky, enjoyed commanding views of Manhattan’s skyline across the East River."

Pegasus: Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley

Great Reads

Further Reading: Yossarian Slept Here

Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22 (reviewed below) by Erica Heller is a new memoir by a daughter about (at least in part) her famous author father.

Erica Heller's book isn't an elegy for a famous family member, but a memoir that integrates family experience with personal recollection. Of course, every writer has a different reason for writing memoir--even those with famous author fathers. If you like Yossarian Slept Here, here are five more memoirs by daughters of famous authors:

Lies My Mother Never Told Me by Kaylie Jones, about her father James Jones (From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line) deals with fame and alcoholism, making the PW review that called it "absolutely addictive" intensely ironic.

The Children of Lovers by Judy Carver is subtitled "A Memoir of William Golding by His Daughter, Judy." In Carver's recollection, Golding, acclaimed author of Lord of the Flies, changed drastically as she grew up and he gained money and fame.

Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron pays particular attention not to William Styron's considerable body of work, but to the lifelong depression that affected everyone around him and his ability to continue writing.

My Father Is a Book by Janna Malamud Smith tells less about its author than about its author subject. Malamud Smith wants to understand Bernard Malamud, and in "reading" him she gets very close, combining compassion with beautiful prose.

Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever is "a biographical memoir," in which Cheever uses letters, journal entries and other ephemera to paint her own portrait of her father, John Cheever--not stinting about his dark impulses.

Poisoned Pen Press: Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach

The Writer's Life

Portrait of the Artist: Neil Abramson

Neil Abramson spent most of his adult life either studying or practicing law, and he spent a good chunk of that life without any pets: "Not even a goldfish," he said, laughing. Yet Abramson has just published his first novel, Unsaid (Center Street Books)--and it's about how people communicate with each other and their beloved animals.

Speaking from his Hudson Valley home, which he shares with his wife, two children and numerous animals, Abramson acknowledged that there's a big juxtaposition between his old life and new life. "When I married my wife, who's a veterinarian, I went from living in a small, dark New York City apartment with a dead cactus to living in a house filled with dogs, cats, even a pig--all rescue animals!--and it was a huge change for me. It took me a while to adjust to having responsibilities for other lives, when I had never before had to be home taking care of something or somebody."

But Abramson's commitment to animal rights came long before his commitment to caring for any. "Right around law school, I got involved in doing animal stuff," he said, explaining that he'd always been interested in the legal notion of externality, meaning a person or entity who only has protection under the law because somebody else is caring for them in some capacity. "When I got involved in animal rights law in the late 1980s, a lot of this stuff was just coming to the forefront and it was an exciting time, with lots of arguments and decisions."

Abramson and his wife, Amy, are committed to animal rights in many aspects of their lives. "Once you get involved in factory farming and see the abuses that happen, it's hard to continue eating meat," he said. "Amy's been a vegetarian for her entire life, and I try to eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but sometimes eat wild fish. We each draw our lines in different places. We don't live the perfect, vegan, animal-free, no-leather life. We just do the best we can."

The impetus for Unsaid came out of a health scare that Amy had early on in the couple's relationship, before they married. "Amy was worried about what would happen to her animals if she were gone--and she was also worried about whether or not she'd made mistakes over the years in her role as a veterinarian, in choosing the precise moment when an animal will die. Veterinarians are supposed to heal and save, but so often they are called upon to end lives. What is the right time? What would be waiting for her after death if she had made mistakes?" Abramson recalled.

He decided that rather than try to speak his feelings about her fears, he would try to create a world that would express them. "I wanted to let her know that it's okay. As long as you care, as long as you feel for those creatures, as long as there's a meaning to their existence--you've done the right thing."

Abramson's novel is about Helena, a veterinarian who has died of breast cancer, but whose consciousness lives on and allows her to watch her husband, David, become an impassioned advocate for a chimpanzee's rights. "So much goes unsaid between husbands and wives," the author noted. "But even more can go unsaid between humans and animals. I don't really understand the science of how communication happens between our species, but I did a lot of reading, and I had a terrific science consultant for the book, Dr. Barbara J. King from the College of William and Mary."

The toughest message to communicate, for someone who has animals, is the proper time to let go. "One of the things I wanted to have Helena show that comes from Amy is our strange modern contradiction about vets. You've lived with this creature for years and been so emotional about it, but then you want a medical professional to take over this important decision and make it for you. It's a way of abdicating responsibility."

So what did the veterinarian in Neil Abramson's life think about Unsaid? "Amy's reaction after reading the manuscript was to cry for three days. Then she said 'Don't ever make me read that again.' She was very moved."

Other readers have been, too. "I'm told never to read my reviews, but I do, and I'm particularly interested in those from readers, not critics. One of them commented on the theology of the book and I thought, hmmm... I was not aware there was one! However, on further thought, I realized that there's a character who says the language of God is juxtaposition. The real evidence of a higher being is dissonance and difference."

Kind of like the difference between an old life and a new life? Abramson laughed. "Exactly. Exactly! I'm going to keep writing because it's all about communicating with other people, and showing them what I've learned. I write about what I care about." --Bethanne Patrick

Editor's Note: Neil Abramson has founded the Finally Home animal sanctuary organization for southern New York State; a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Unsaid is donated there.

 

Chicago Review Press: Pandora's DNA by Lizzie Stark

Literary Lists

A Book List for On-the-Go Families

Positing that "the right book can open up a whole new world of scientific information," MSNBC's Cosmic Log recommended 10 books for a summer field trip, which offer "a little science, a little travel, and little or no math required."

Mixed Media

Pirates of the Bookstore Cafe

Traditional print book piracy. The Daily What caught these two Barnes & Noble patrons "pirating" cookbooks in the store's café.

Book Review

Fiction

The Language of Flowers

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria Jones is untrusting and unlovable. At 18, she's maxed out on her available time in foster or group home care, as her easy-to-revile caseworker Meredith emphasizes. As this debut novel opens, Victoria is on the streets of San Francisco. She's uninspired, unafraid and in no hurry to succeed.

Chapter two flashes back to Victoria at 10, as Meredith delivers her to Elizabeth, her "last chance" foster mother. The first-person voice and the past-and-present format, rather than creating a choppy narrative, give insights into Victoria's life and flesh out her motivations. Despite Victoria's resistance to love and her rock-bottom self-image, Elizabeth nurtures her, and plants the seeds of her life-long study of the language of flowers. "Common thistle is everywhere," she says, "Which is perhaps why human beings are so relentlessly unkind to one another."

A tragedy ends her placement, but when Victoria is emancipated she draws on that memory of true mothering and her talent with flowers and their symbolism to build a life. Healing her spirit takes longer; we ache to support her as Grant, a flower farmer, Renata, her boss, and, eventually, her own daughter offer her love.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh weaves plant meanings throughout the story and includes "Victoria's Definition of Flowers" at the end of the book. She has launched a nonprofit foster-child support movement, camellianetwork.org. Readers of this heartbreaking and hopeful novel will be moved to respond, if only to plant Canterbury bells (for gratitude). --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: How the symbolism of flowers offers a homeless young woman a career and eventual healing from a life of neglect, in this hopeful debut novel.

Ballantine, $25, hardcover, 9780345525543

Bed

by David Whitehouse

There's a certain slant of absurdity that seems to be the province of many writers in the Commonwealth. It's a way of viewing the world that creates a humorous atmosphere along with the creeping discomfort of knowing that just beyond the baffling surface of a tale, the reader is coming heart to heart with an uncomfortably profound truth. Books that pull it off, like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, usually land impressive literary awards because readers recognize the authenticity behind the author's tilted prose.

David Whitehouse's debut, Bed, is one of these books, a darkly funny satire of dysfunction. The novel's perspective is that of Malcolm Ede's younger brother, who never tells us his own name because all that matters is that he's kin to a man who hasn't been out of bed since age 25. By day 7,483 of Malcolm's self-imposed confinement, he weighs more than 1,400 pounds, and neither his parents nor his brother have been able to escape his needs in over 20 years. The neighbors are nosy, the press curious and the psychiatrists glibly certain that Malcolm's "real problem" is depression. But, just like the tangles of real life, Malcolm's reasons for taking to his bed are much more complex--and they make him, perhaps, the only sane person in the room. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

Discover: A finely written, darkly funny satire that's utterly, unnervingly true.

Scribner, $24, hardcover, 9781451614220

Mystery & Thriller

The Keeper of Lost Causes

by Jussi Adler-Olsen , trans. by Tiina Nunnally

Danish police detective Carl Mørck is back at work after "sick leave," an innocuous term for what really happened: on a dead-body call, he and two colleagues were gunned down. Mørck is no longer himself, the ace detective who lived and breathed his work; he's argumentative and disruptive, and his fellow officers are fed up.

A plan emerges with a funding mandate from a government official to open a department called Q that will look into "cases deserving special scrutiny." Mørck descends to the new basement office of Q, "the fourth circle of Hell," and decides to do nothing, which is what he wants anyway.

But Mørck discovers that the funding for his department is higher than he was told, so he leverages his information to obtain a car and an assistant. That assistant is Hafez el-Assad, who, with his curiosity, drive to learn and useful copy of Handbook for Crime Technicians, pushes Mørck into reluctant action with one case file: five years earlier, Merete Lyngaard disappeared. A rising political star, she was last seen on a ferry to Germany after she and her brain-damaged younger brother, Uffe, were on a holiday; Uffe was later found wandering in Germany. Did she commit suicide? Did Uffe harm her? Was she kidnapped? There are more questions, but few answers.

Kussi Adler-Olsen has written a Scandinavian thriller without snow and with a leavening wit that is nonetheless dark and chilling and filled with appealing characters. By the book's end, the tension is so high turning the page is difficult, but you'll keep doing so, and happily. Even more happily, Dutton has the next Department Q book, and there are others waiting to be translated. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

See our Maximum Shelf: The Keeper of Lost Causes for more.

Discover: Another Scandinavian thriller, this time from Denmark--no snow, plenty of coffee, and characters with real heart and soul.

Dutton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780525952480

The Killer Is Dying

by James Sallis

Prolific author James Sallis is probably best known for his Lew Griffin mysteries (Ghost of a Flea). His latest novel, The Killer Is Dying, is both stark and beautiful. Christian, an aging contract killer confronted by his own mortality, is caught in a web of mystery when his final target, a seemingly innocuous accountant, is taken down by an unknown assailant. The job was botched, and Christian aims to complete his task. At the same time, seasoned detective Dale Sayles is searching for his terminally ill wife, who has left him. All the while, a young boy abandoned by his parents in the anonymous suburbs of Phoenix is haunted by the killer's dreams. As the story unfolds, their disparate paths spiral closer, bound for collision.

Though marketed as a thriller, The Killer Is Dying reads as treatise on the human condition. It's not your typical "whodunit." If you hate a wild goose chase with loose ends, this book will challenge you. But it's well worth while to suspend your need for closure, as the author's sparse use of language forces detail into brilliant focus. His characters are so completely human that you slip seamlessly between their minds and memories, ensuring that while Sallis's tale is steeped in loss, it is never bleak. Devoid of even the slightest hint of sentimentality, the story suggests that we are all connected--if not in life, then certainly in death. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A tangled web of lives bound by brutality, loss and ultimate redemption.

Walker & Co., $24, hardcover, 9780802779458

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Blood Bound

by Rachel Vincent

Enter the world of the Skilled, a select segment of society born with paranormal abilities. Liv works as a Tracker, who can find people by the scent of their blood. Her life is thrown into chaos when her friend Annika demands Liv find and kill the person who murdered her husband--but stipulates that Liv must work with her ex-boyfriend Cam, a man she still loves but must avoid for the sake of both their lives.

Gritty, dark and reminiscent of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, this first novel in a planned trilogy takes the reader into a seedy world of organized paranormal crime. Liv and Cam may still love each other, but trust is a different matter when each of them is magically "Bound" to a different crime lord. However, as they navigate standoffs and money trails in search of those who killed Annika's husband, the secrets Liv and Cam turn up about their syndicate bosses grow deeper and darker, and they begin to realize they can't trust anyone but each other.

Blood Bound offers a little something for everyone: a convincing magical system for urban fantasy fans; for romance readers, a love that time and distance can't break; and a twist-and-turn plot for mystery buffs. Readers looking for a light and fluffy ride should go elsewhere. While Liv and Cam come across as likable, the overall mood of the book has both the grimy patina and complicated charm of the wrong side of town. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: A gritty, dangerous world of sorcerous bindings and forbidden love.

Mira, $7.99, mass market, 9780778312550

Nonfiction

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

by Alexandra Fuller

Every sentence that Alexandra Fuller writes in this sequel to her memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight displays such candor, sincerity, intimacy and unashamed delight in the eccentricities of her family that she renders all the Fullers irresistible.

At first glance, one might consider Nicola Christine Victoria Huntingford Fuller and Timothy Donald Fuller indifferent or careless parents and alcoholics, perhaps even certifiable. A closer look reveals a great love story that includes huge amounts of loyalty and forgiveness, a capacity to come back from heartbreak and a dogged belief that they have a home in Africa, rather than their birth countries of England and Scotland.

Nicola, as a former child of adversity, put up with her family moving around Africa, running from war and the loss of three children. The only survivor other than Alexandra is her older sister, Vanessa, whose eccentricity is her insistence that she cannot read. Nicola suffered periodic bouts of absolute madness, but continued to hope that the next move would be the right one. When asked why they kept going back, she says: "It was Africa, that was the main thing--we wanted to go back to Africa. We longed for the warmth and freedom, the real open spaces, the wild animals, the sky at night."

The perfect equatorial light of Africa is mentioned several times and, at the end, sitting under the Tree of Forgetfulness on their banana and fish farm in Zambia, Fuller helps us see it. Within it, her parents are finally at home. The reader is captivated by their humor, courage under fire, perseverance and overarching love for the land they've made their own: Africa. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A captivating sequel to Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, this story of Alexandra Fuller's parents is one of love and loss in equal doses, all backlit by the red African sun.

Penguin Press, $25.95, hardcover, 9781594202995

Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It

by Don Peck

Economic downturns negatively affect every generation that faces them, and the recession of 2008 was no different, but the losses often go much deeper than one might realize. In Pinched, Don Peck, an Atlantic journalist, details the enormous social, emotional and personal costs of the current recession.

Peck doesn't try to pretend that the economic costs of recession are minimal; they are, as he points out, staggering. But the costs of economic downturn go beyond dollars and cents--they include the loss of valuable career opportunities for those just graduating from college and the loss of manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs for those who never attended. They include enormous costs in self-confidence and self-esteem, as millions of Americans suddenly find themselves without employment and thus, for many, without a meaningful use to which to put their time.

The losses of significant work and the permanent damage to careers are common fallout in any recession; however, Peck says, this recession differs in at least two ways. One is the losses inflicted by the housing bubble, which is easily the largest economic bubble to ravage the economy in U.S. history. The other is the political chasm opening between the haves, who have been largely unmolested by the recession, and the have-nots, who were sold an American Dream based on home ownership and consumption and who are now seeing everything promised evaporate.

Pinched paints a bleak picture of the this Great Recession because, in many ways, the picture is bleak. By bolstering the middle class and providing jobs, however, Peck suggests that we can turn the bleakness around, even if it takes years. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Literary Cricket

Discover: A plain and open look at the impacts of the current recession and the basic economic tools needed to get U.S. workers back on their feet.

Crown, $22, hardcover, 9780307886521

It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion

by Vicky Tiel

Vicky Tiel, self-proclaimed inventor of the miniskirt and wrap dress (look out, Diane von Furstenberg!), has produced a memoir that might more aptly be titled "It's All About the Sex." While her career as a fashion designer is covered here, Tiel's book focuses on Hollywood flings and gossip from the '60s and '70s. Unintentionally or not, the read is an utter hoot.

Tiel's over-the-top narrative is full of chutzpah, whether she gleefully recounts standing up Woody Allen after he beat out another director in a contest to take her to bed or shamelessly details her role as a mistress to the married make-up artist of none other than Elvis Presley. Tiel speaks with adoration about her friendship with the generous, larger-than-life Elizabeth Taylor, whom she dressed for many years, but gives other stars shorter shrift (although Mia Farrow apparently gives quite the lap dance).

This rollicking escapade of booze, drugs and travel is interspersed with sex advice (be nothing if not enthusiastic), life lessons from Miles Davis and Coco Chanel and, inexplicably, many recipes from the stars (spaghetti by Sophia Loren, anyone?). In between her motorcycle ride with Paul Newman and tantric lovemaking with Warren Beatty, Tiel also writes about her groundbreaking, fashion-forward designs, such as the red draped "Pretty Woman" dress she created for Julia Roberts. But in a book that's "all about the dress," a photograph or two would have made this far-out recounting of Tiel's life even groovier. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A wild joyride through several decades of fashion trends, stars and sex seen through the eyes of fashionista Vicky Tiel.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9780312659097

Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22

by Erica Heller

Erica Heller, daughter of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, throws open the doors on her family's history and skeletons in this funny, heartbreaking memoir. Given that there are two memoirs by Heller himself, a biography by Tracy Daugherty (Just One Catch) and many interviews Heller gave throughout his life, readers might wonder if Erica Heller will have anything new to say about her famous father.

The answer is: absolutely. While the book touches on well-known details of Joseph Heller's life, such as his friendship with celebrities like Mel Brooks and Mario Puzo, Erica Heller provides insight into life with her mercurial father. Rather than focus on his genius, she fleshes out his personality and their relationship, giving us a man who secretly follows his daughter to her new school to make sure she arrives safely but also disparages her through a thinly veiled fictional version of Erica in a published work.

While her father is the star attraction, Erica Heller's own story is the true focus of this book. Her childhood is peopled with unforgettable characters: her indomitable grandmother who refused to let poverty stop her from spending sprees; her mother, Shirley Heller, whose once-happy marriage to Joseph ended in a hostile divorce; a slew of quirky family friends; and the Apthorp, an apartment building so full of history, personality and community that it becomes a character itself. While most of our parents are mere mortals, Heller's tale of trying to meet parental expectations while finding her own path will resonate with readers everywhere. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: Erica Heller's version of life as the child of a celebrity author: in other words, a funny, poignant and meaningful memoir.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781439197684

One Minute Mindfulness

by Donald Altman

Donald Altman, a former Buddhist monk and now a practicing psychotherapist, has written such books as The Mindfulness Code and Living Kindness; he also leads workshops in mindfulness training (e.g., "Mindful Eating," to help people overcome eating disorders). Here Altman encourages his readers to take the least scary, most feasible, baby step of all in mindfulness: for just 60 seconds commit to being present. "You may not be able to remedy the situation in one minute," he writes, "but you can face it and vow to do something about it."

For a person feeling irritable, for example, Altman recommends relaxing for 60 seconds without an agenda, without projections, simply "being with" the irritability--all of which should lead the person to recognize the roots of the irritability. The practice applies just as well to someone who has unexpressed expectations of another person that were unfulfilled or who feels uncomfortable about his or her body. The practice of One Minute Mindfulness aims to give people the space they need, free from pressures. This ancient awareness technique has been tested by modern neuroscience, demonstrating the adaptability of the brain and its ability to rewire established neural patterns.

Altman clearly delineates this gentle, liberating approach through the five parts of his book: "One Minute Mindfulness for Home and Play," for "Work and Creativity," for "Relationships and Love," for "Health and Wellbeing" and for "Nature, Spirituality, and Contemplation." Each short chapter concludes with a simple exercise, practice or meditation to allow the reader to experience mindfulness within the area explored. This calm and compassionate book offers tremendous help for every area of our lives. --Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: How to unhitch yourself from the crippling reins of habit, and learn how to open to the spacious, peace-filled freedom that exists within.

New World Library, $14.95, trade paper, 9781608680306

Children's & Young Adult

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book One

by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel (the Silverwing Trilogy) imagines the shaping of Victor Frankenstein's psyche in a taut and chilling novel that serves as a brilliant prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He keeps many of Shelley's major players, and invents an identical twin, Konrad, born two minutes before Victor. The tension between the 15-year-old brothers over their romantic feelings toward their cousin Elizabeth Lavenza brings out the dark side in Victor.

Victor loves his twin, but also needs to feel superior to him, and this duality dogs his every step. One day, while Victor, Konrad and Elizabeth are horsing around, Elizabeth falls against some bookshelves that open a narrow entrance to a secret passage. In the bowels of the Chateau Frankenstein, they discover a library of forbidden texts that offers, among other things, the secret of alchemy and the Elixir of Life. When Konrad falls ill, Victor enlists Elizabeth and their friend Henry to help discover the recipe for the Elixir of Life in order to save him. Their pursuit is the "dark endeavor" of the title. Their mission leads them to the laboratory of a hermit-like alchemist and some spine-tingling adventures to retrieve the ingredients.

The question that plagues Victor is whether he should play God just because he can. Oppel succeeds in creating a complex character living in the 18th century whose inner struggles will resonate profoundly with young men and women of modern times. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A taut and chilling prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9781442403154

Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II

by Ron Koertge

For all of us who fell in love with Colleen Minou (Stoner) and Ben Bancroft (Spaz, due to his cerebral palsy), Ron Koertge's follow-up more than measures up to the novel that introduced them, Stoner & Spaz. Ben met with approval from his peers with his documentary, High School Confidential. But Colleen came with him for the screening, and left early with "a guy with a couple of joints and a Pontiac Firebird," as Ben puts it. Ben did, however, meet a fellow filmmaker, Amy, who goes by A.J., respects his work and wants to talk with him about film.

Here Koertge digs deeper into the lives of both Colleen and Ben, and as they confide more in each other, they touch off a snowball effect. A.J. adds another dimension to their exchanges, and Colleen urges Ben to search for his mother. If you find yourself keeping a list of Ben's favorites for your Netflix queue, you're in good company. When he and Colleen pull up at his mother's address, 111 Magnolia, he thinks, "One eleven is a little seedy, like in Day of the Locust, the ultimate movie about Hollywood the way it used to be." The chemistry between Colleen and Ben oozes from every page. She's gutsy and smart as well as beautiful, and she makes Ben feel prized and alive. He stands by her in her struggle to stay clean as the one person she can count on and, in all the important ways, he can count on her. Life is messy, no one is perfect, but they are in it together. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The witty sequel to Stoner & Spaz and their continuing unlikely love story.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, ages 14-up, 9780763650810
--- SPECIAL ADVERTORIAL OFFERINGS ---
Kids Buzz

Painting the Rainbow

by Amy Gordon

Dear Reader,

Cousins Holly and Ivy have always been best friends, but during the summer of 1965, with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement causing tensions within the family, the girls are also fighting.

When the girls discover letters relating to a Japanese boy, Kiyo, a friend of their Uncle Jesse’s at the time that Pearl Harbor was bombed, they end up learning important truths about themselves and are able to help the family heal from old misunderstandings.

For a chance to win a signed copy, email agordon49@gmail.com.

Here’s to a more peaceful world,
Amy Gordon
www.amyagordon.com
 

Buy this book

 


KidsBuzz: Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon

PUBLISHER: Holiday House

PUB DATE:
March 2014

AGE RANGE: 8–14

TYPE OF BOOK:
Middle-grade fiction

ISBN-13:
9780823425259

PRICE: $16.95

Rat Attack: A Short Vowel Adventure
Princess Pig: A Short Vowel Adventure

by Molly Coxe

Dear Reader,

I love to write and illustrate Early Readers! I love finding a way to tell a fresh, surprising story with just a few simple words and some lively illustrations, and I love hearing from booksellers, parents, teachers, and librarians that one of my books has helped a child learn to read. This makes my day!

My previous early readers, which include Hot Dog, Big Egg, and Cat Traps, have sold 1.8 million copies. My new early readers for BraveMouse Books will still feature fresh, fun stories. What’s new is a phonics focus designed to help beginning readers build skills and confidence. Rat Attack highlights the “short a” sound. Princess Pig is filled with “short i’s”! Coming soon: Wet Hen, Hot Rod, and Cub in the Tub. (All will be available in bilingual e book editions in seven languages.)

Email me at bravemouse1@gmail.com to enter to win a copy.

Ciao for now!
Molly

 

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KidsBuzz: Rat Attack and Princess Pig by Molly Coxe

PUBLISHER:
BraveMouse Books

PUB DATE:
September 2014

AGE RANGE: 5–7

TYPE OF BOOK:
Early reader

ISBN-13:
9781940947211 & 9781940947228

PRICE: $3.99 each

The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys

by Barbara Dee

Dear Reader,

In my new tween novel, THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS, eighth grader Finley Davis and her best friend Maya Lopez do a study of male immaturity. They're right about middle school boys...until they aren't.

Here's the librarian blogger at IReadtoRelax.com: "Barbara Dee has an uncanny knack for capturing middle school behavior in a fun and engaging way. This is a book that I can confidently hand to readers.” (GOLD STAR REVIEW)

Email me at Barbara@BarbaraDeeBooks.com to enter to win a signed copy.

Happy reading,
Barbara Dee
 

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KidsBuzz: The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys by Barbara Dee

PUBLISHER: Aladdin Paperbacks

PUB DATE:
September 30, 2014

AGE RANGE: 9–13

TYPE OF BOOK:
Middle-grade fiction

ISBN-13:
9781481405638

PRICE: $7.99 each

The Fifth Vertex

by Kevin Hoffman

Dear Reader,

In THE FIFTH VERTEX, the main character, Urus, was born deaf and discovers that his sign language may be the key that he and his companions need to stop a powerful group of sorcerers from destroying the five long-hidden vertices that ward the world against threats from beyond, while fighting off threats from within.

E-mail giveaway@thefifthvertex.com to enter to win a free, signed copy of the book!

Enjoy,
Kevin Hoffman
http://www.thefifthvertex.com
 

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KidsBuzz: The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman

PUBLISHER:
Kevin Hoffman

PUB DATE:
August 2, 2014

AGE RANGE: 12+

TYPE OF BOOK:
YA epic fantasy

ISBN-13:
9780990647911

PRICE: $10.43

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